Nuclear Fuel Bank Negotiations Reach Final Stages, Agreement Expected Later This Year

EAST KAZAKHSTAN REGION – After 14 rounds of talks between Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), agreement on the establishment of the IAEA bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU) is in the final stage and planned for a signing before the end of the year. The information was shared by Alexander Khodanov, director for sales of the Ulba Metallurgical Plant (UMP), which, as it is known, can become a platform for storing the LEU owned by the IAEA.

As Khodanov explained, after reaching the agreement, Kazakhstan and the IAEA will sign a number of documents between UMP, the assumed technical operator of the project, and the IAEA. The negotiations with the agency are carried out with participation of specialists of Kazatomprom and UMP. The documents will stipulate all technical details of this bank, beginning with issues of security.

“The plant has experience in the work with such material and its storage is a standard procedure. We are talking about the storage of low-enriched uranium in the form of hexafluoride, which is used in the production of fuel pellets for fuel assemblies at nuclear power plants. The principle of LEU bank operation is similar to safekeeping in a safe deposit box. The question is the storage of more than 60 cylinders of uranium hexafluoride, which in terms of uranium is about 90 tonnes,” Khodanov said.

The initiative to establish the LEU bank belongs to the IAEA and was supported by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The main objective of this bank is to create a certain safety margin of raw materials for the production of nuclear fuel in the countries that do not have uranium technologies. In case of supply problems, consumer countries can use LEU material stored at UMP. All raw materials will be the sole property of the IAEA and will be sold by the agency only under agreement with a particular company which manufactures fuel pellets and assemblies. The project is funded by donor states.

“For this purpose, a special fund which has already accumulated $150 million was created and the means will be spent on the purchase of material and its transportation under control of the IAEA. Kazakhstan only provides space and accepts some operational costs associated with the storage of this material. The storage will not be paid, because it is Kazakhstan’s contribution to the process of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Khodanov concluded.

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